Saturday, December 14, 2013

Missing the Messiah

"We were sad to miss the Messiah this year."

This line from my pastor's weekly letter to the congregation caught my eye. I know what he meant, of course. Our church annually holds a community service called the "Messiah Sing." Our chancel choir, accompanied by members of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, performs Handel's "Messiah" and invites all those in attendance to sing with us on the choruses. It is a popular and expected event, and the sanctuary is routinely filled to overflowing for it. This year, because of an unusual ice storm, the event was canceled. We thus missed "Messiah."

But the pastor's note struck a different chord with me. Too often, Christmas comes and Christmas goes, and we miss the Messiah.

We do not allow ourselves to miss the Christmas experience. We sing the songs, take the school vacations, hang the lights, attend the parties, and give the gifts. We make sure to include "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Elf" and "The Christmas Story" as a part of our December routines. We would not dare fail to put up a tree.

And we dutifully bemoan the "commercialization of Christmas" even as we buy another lighted wreath.

The brilliant insight of Dr. Seuss is that taking all of these trappings away - the Grinch even steals the roast beast - cannot keep Christmas from coming. Would that we all had the understanding of Dr. Seuss.

John the Baptist himself was not sure the Jesus he found was the Jesus he had been expecting. John had preached about a Messiah bearing a winnowing fork. The healing, resurrecting, loving Jesus was not quite the same picture. Of course, more was different than just Jesus, for John the Baptist asked his doubting question - "Are you really the one?" - from a prison cell. Life was not turning out like John had expected, and the world was not what John expected, and Jesus was not what John expected.

The same is true for us. Life is not what we expect. Dangerous ice storms prevent us from taking our routine drives and interrupt our schedules. We do not turn out to be the persons we thought we would be. Somebody steals our roast beast.

And maybe Jesus is not what we expected. We wanted a king to come and conquer everything that was bothering us. We were ready for the ruler, the long-expected deliverer. We were prepared for the one who would smile at us and thank us for our excellent work and take us to our special slice of heaven. Yet life has not turned out that way. Our years of service and good deeds have seemingly gone unnoticed. Jesus has come without doing one thing about our sore backs or our irritating bosses. In fact, Jesus seems to have bypassed us altogether.

If we are not careful, we will be sad to miss the Messiah this year.

Jesus of course does not leave John the Baptist in his doubt. He reminds John of the the great prophecies of Isaiah, of the one who would come bringing sight to the blind and preaching good news to the poor. Jesus will not let us miss Him either if we will simply look. He is the one the angels proclaimed, the one who has come once again to live in the very dirtiest stables of our own lives. He is not deterred by ice storms, or aches and pains, or our own stubborn insistence on making Christmas about lights and movies and chocolate.

Advent is upon us. Christ is coming. Do not miss the Messiah.

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